Hard Work, Some Play At The Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair

The teenagers spend time near the animals at the fair. Here, they wait for breakfast to be served. i i

The FFA teenagers spend a lot of time near the animals at the fair. Here, they wait for breakfast to be served just feet from a cow. Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University hide caption

itoggle caption Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
The teenagers spend time near the animals at the fair. Here, they wait for breakfast to be served.

The FFA teenagers spend a lot of time near the animals at the fair. Here, they wait for breakfast to be served just feet from a cow.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Julia Griffieon cleans out a livestock pen, one of her many duties at the fair. i i

Julia Griffieon cleans out a livestock pen, one of her many duties at the fair. Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University hide caption

itoggle caption Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Julia Griffieon cleans out a livestock pen, one of her many duties at the fair.

Julia Griffieon cleans out a livestock pen, one of her many duties at the fair.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
After doing chores, Julia Griffieon gets ready for the day. i i

After doing chores, Julia Griffieon gets ready for the day. Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies hide caption

itoggle caption Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies
After doing chores, Julia Griffieon gets ready for the day.

After doing chores, Julia Griffieon gets ready for the day.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies
Julia Griffieon stands at her stall in the fair. i i

Julia Griffieon stands at her stall at the fair. Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University hide caption

itoggle caption Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
Julia Griffieon stands at her stall in the fair.

Julia Griffieon stands at her stall at the fair.

Elena Rue/Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

American Family Farms

Learn more about the Griffieon family farm in Iowa and four other family farms through the public radio series Five Farms.

While city dwellers and suburbanites may head to the state fair for the rides, the shows and the foods on a stick, the state fair is still about agriculture for farm families.

One of those families is the Griffieons of Ankeny, Iowa, whom NPR is following through a year. Craig and LaVon Griffieon, who have four children, raise corn, soybeans, beef, pork and poultry on 1,150 acres.

This summer, the Griffieons' two youngest children, Phillip and Julia, spent many hours at the Iowa State Fair. They watched over animals in an exhibit called Avenue of the Breeds, cleaning out the pens and socializing. Fiifteen-year-old Julia also refinished a cherry dresser that was passed down to her from her great-great-grandfather and entered it in a competition. She said she was "very excited" when it won a blue ribbon.

The Griffieon teenagers are members of the FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, which keeps up the livestock and pens at the fair.

The FFA members sleep in a 20-bed dormitory at the fairgrounds so they can keep close tabs on the animals.

"The mattresses aren't the greatest — they've been around for about 40 years now," says 17-year-old Phillip.

FFA members' parents, like LaVon Griffieon, cook breakfast for the teens while they work at the fair. When it was her turn, LaVon fixed biscuits and gravy, a request from the kids.

Julia says there are about 55 breeds of animals at the Avenue of the Breeds, and Phillip adds there are hogs, cattle, sheep and "exotic animals."

The teenagers get up at 5:30 a.m. to feed the animals and clean out the stalls. In the evening, they take the animals up a hill about a half-mile away and tie them outside so they can get some fresh air. Then they clean out the pens again.

The teenagers' work is done at about 10:30 or 11 p.m., when they either go to bed or walk around the fair, Phillip says. The horses come back at night, and the cattle are left overnight to cool off.

"One morning, I had a horse come along and stick its head in as I was cooking," LaVon, 52, says with a laugh. "Took me a little bit by surprise."

The Griffieon family has been coming to the state fair for decades, so everyone knows the lay of the land. Craig Griffieon, 56, says he has visited the fair for about 50 years — he showed animals at the county and state fairs as a kid.

"Lot of times you only see people one time a year — here at the state fair — and you run into them and you might not see them for another year yet," Craig says. "It's basically the culture of the state. Everybody in Iowa can come and display their animals, like cattle breeds and pig breeds, and show what Iowa grows and the best of the best."

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